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Gordon Ramsay Helps Luigi's D'Italia Turn its Beloved Irrelevancy into Something Better

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Forgot my camera, so no photos of the new Luigi's D'Italia--you'll have to see the restaurant yourself...

For 30 years, Luigi's D'Italia was the place you went when you wanted slops of good Italian food--but that was it. You didn't take a first date there, but rather the girl who already knew all your bad eating habits and wouldn't cringe too much when the spaghetti inevitably swung into your shirt. Most likely, you took your guys or family to twirl through mountains of pastas, pizzas as large as basketball hoops, baskets of bread that filled you up so much you either had to take most of your meal home or get fat trying to eat it all in one sitting--and guess what most of us did? It was a classic, it was beloved--and no one took it seriously.

There was nothing that made Luigi's stand out from the other Italian restaurants in Orange County, not even the Italian-American ones, and honestly, I stopped going after a lifetime of patronage as a proud Anaheimer once I discovered Rufino's on the other side of town. I just assumed Luigi's would always be there, just like its little weekly ad in the parish bulletin for St. Boniface (which I remember since I was a kid), and eventually disappear as its clientele died off or discovered better places.

But an ambitious reclamation project is currently underway at Luigi's, thanks to the impetus of Gordon Ramsay. Somebody narcced on Luigi's to the tempestuous chef, because he set up shop this past week to devote an episode of his FOX Kitchen Nightmares series to save the restaurant and make it relevant again. The show invited the chica and I to try the revamped Luigi's--I'll focus on the Ramsay angle come October, once the show airs (and you know we're going to devote like a million blog posts to that), but right now: the new Luigi's, a place to finally visit for the food, a place that can combine the best of Cortina's and Onotria if it stays on its new track.

The outside still remains, that tired brick façade that might've been new in the 1960s, but inside, the new remodel is as sleek as a Vespa. Whereas the old Luigi's was dank and as gnarled as its regulars, the new interior treads on new trends without being obnoxious. You get a bit of an open kitchen, but the staff remains the same, no-nonsense happy faces that served you a decade ago instead of douche-y hipsters. Walls are lined with suitcases featuring stickers of different Italian cities--you'll feel like Audrey Hepburn (or, conversely, Gregory Peck for the gents) in Roman Holiday, and that sensation doesn't feel forced or even gimmicky. On the walls hang passport photos of whom I assume to be the parents of Luigi (yes, an actual Luigi exists--more on him in a bit), and new, playful light fixtures radiate with the feel a new-age trattoria sans the arrogance.

Luigi's menu is the main surprise--instead of the stagnant 1970s-era encyclopedia that existed for years (do people under age 40 still order veal piccata?), a single sheet now exists, taking the favorites (pizzas, sturdy subs, pastas, and the like) of the old menu and updating it for the locavore generation. They've finally started to make their own pastas here, along with the sausages--one of the Luigi's owners said she hadn't cased sausage since she was a young girl in Italy, and isn't that the ultimate ding at the old Luigi's yet the ultimate indicator of the restaurant's redemption?

The revamped dining room was slammed with those lucky 100 or so souls that was able to snag a reservation to Luigi's grand opening, and the positive vibes emanated through the room. Everyone was in their dining best, while the staff dressed smartly in T-shirts with Luigi's new logo (but PLEASE don't drop the little guy on your marquee!!!). All sorts of delights passed us by--hefty meatballs, basil-bedecked pastas, pasta platters and the like. We stuck with simple, but telling dishes: the pasta arriabata, and a homemade sausage plate. First came a butter lettuce salad, chockablock with walnuts and strong blue cheese--my chica gorged on that, while I concentrated on the calamari, which was spectacular. No more rubbery, sad, oily mess: now came firm calamari, with an airy, crunchy crust that recalled the best chicharrones or fish 'n' chips. We dunked it in an arriabata sauce that amazingly, actually had heat, murkier and distinct from its fine marinara cousin in which we kept dunking our bread.

I don't care for pasta arriabata, but I chose it at Luigi's for a reason. Too often, I find the dish a sad clump of noodles, dressed with a sauce that doesn't even aspire toward tomato water. In fact, I've never eaten a satisfactory pasta arriabata--until trying the one at Luigi's. The noodles snaked around each other like a nest, but actually unfolded once I forked some onto my plate. That great sauce from the calamari remained, and it had enough of a lurking spice that for the first time in my life at an Italian restaurant, I didn't ask for Tabasco or Tapatío. I kept the leftover arriabata to enjoy (just snacked on it now--yum!), and if Luigi's can inspire me to do this with one of my least-favorite pastas, heaven knows the others must be better--and I will return to try them. (If they can make now memorable chicken Alfredo, then Ramsay in actually must be Yahweh Himself).

The sausage dish was even better--on a bed of white beans and sautéed greens in a hearty tomato sauce, grilled so the case was a bit crunchy, the pork inside fragrant and sweet. It could've held a bit better, but hey: if you don't ride a bike for decades and try again, you're not exactly going to cruise smoothly anew, are you? We ended with a fabulous cannoli--large, but not obnoxiously so, with a lightly fried crust, sweet marscapone filling and decorated at its ends with chocolate chips. They sell them to go, displayed in a deli tray that will eventually stock their sausage, hams, and other Italian house-made delights--and therein is their possible future.

Luigi's is still a work in progress, but I feel that if they have already committed themselves to the radical revamping of their beloved eatery, they can succeed in pushing pass the little errors present last night. The Parmesan cheese in the four-ounce mason jar was a nod toward today's canning craze--but how exactly are customers supposed to use it? I saw many tables either try to tap a bit onto their plates but instead unwittingly unleash an avalanche, or use their dirty forks to scoop some up. Same thing with the little bowls of salt-and-pepper: cute touches, but I don't want to use condiments touched by the grubby hands of others. The house bread was hard, and unimpressive (much better are the fluffy garlic knots); the margherita pizza, though structurally sound, should've had more basil leaves and thin slices of tomatoes across each slice instead of half-slices of cherry tomatoes (and if you're going to make your own sauces, pastas, and sausages, why not go all the way and use heirloom tomatoes for those slices?). Lemon rind should've been provided with my espresso, and while I liked the cheesiness of the plate and cup (decorated with coffee beans), it clashed with the rest of the restaurant.

But those aren't fatal flaws, and easily surmountable. If we played the grade game here at Stick a Fork in It, I'd give Luigi's 3 stars out of 5 from its former 1 star, and a solid B that can easily get up to a B+ with minor changes, and has the potential to get into A terrain, instead of the C that it previously was--and that C was on nostalgia alone. Just stay the course, Luigi's, and don't pay attention to your hordes who'll get angry that the same lukewarm spaghetti they've enjoyed since Wally Joyner was playing for the hometown team is now handmade and better. You're a much-better place now, yet haven't lost your soul with your brush of Hollywood.

And, finally, Luigi. In all these years, I always thought Luigi was just a made-up person, so imagine my shock when I finally met him, harried, but happy. Later, I looked up the sole review of Luigi's listed on their restaurant website, published nearly 30 years ago, and doesn't it tell you something about the restaurant's previous thought process that the only press it could boast of came from the time Don Baylor played with the Halos? Then, 22-year-old Luigi Catizone was fresh off Antonello's, wowing critics with authentic regional Italian to a land desperate for anything good. Amazing--from that initial promise, Luigi had allowed his restaurant to degrade to the point that I always assumed Italian-Americans who grew up on canned tomato sauce and Chef Boyardee ran the place, not a Calabrese (I'll let Dave interject with some Italian here--or, knowing him, Calabresian slang...). This new Luigi's, if they stick to what they now showcase, can partake in the regional Italian movement that never really made it to Orange County outside of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, can let the maestro finally flex his culinary muscles after three decades serving uncaring, unknowing masses. Welcome back, Luigi--where've you been all these years?

Finally (for reals), Ramsay? Total gent--but we'll save that until October. In the meanwhile, go to Luigi's right now, enjoy the food, and congratulate them for committing to rise from the walking undead toward vibrant life without becoming jerks about it. Don't worry, JB: I think all those working-class Mexis and gabachos who remain its core clientele will still be there, with nary a Lola Gaspar acolyte to worry about...

Location Info

Luigi's D'Italia

801 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, CA

Category: Restaurant

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41 comments
Deanmed
Deanmed

Lemon rind is only served with espresso in Italy if u request it. Taking it is an aid to throw up if you have eaten/drank too much. You wolf it down & head to the restroom. Adding it to a plate with every espresso is an American affectation long past its prime. You should not mark down a restaurant for serving espresso properly, as they do in Italy, WITHOUT the lemon rind.

FRO
FRO

My family (including all my husbands siblings and their families) has been going to Luigi's for 26 years. Luigi and my late father-in-law became good friends. We have NEVER seen or heard such drama. We love their food the way Luigi cooks it. They have always treated us with kindness and respect. The service has always been good - even when we have a table of 20. The ORNELAS family loves Luigi's!!! Maybe Chef Mario should have been there to authenticate Luigi's real Italian food.

Donna Villa Park
Donna Villa Park

We have been going to Luigi's for years as true homestyle NY Italian food and was incredibly disappointed this weekend when we went there. The new decor is nice (appreciated but not very important) but we hated the new menu. It was "foo-foo" Italian food and expensive. Everything is a-la-carte. They used to include soup or salad but it's now $3 extra for a dinner salad with an entree and soup was not even listed as an option. Also with any meat (e.g., chicken or veal) entree there was an extra $3 charge for pasta on the side. Can you believe it, an Italian restaurant charging for pasta side with an entree - it's a disgrace. As my family and our friends (party of 6) reviewed the menu at our table, we decided to leave. While we were getting in the car, the owner came running out after us and asked why - we told him basically the same thing as I just wrote and he said he would give (free?) whatever we wanted. We still left and will NOT be back until we hear they gone back to their traditional (not old) menu

JB
JB

Good for you, Donna...I am one of the many who, like you, thought there was nothing wrong with the old Luigi's and want nothing to do with "foo-foo" Italian.  I'll make gravy and bread some veal cutlets at home for you and your party of 6 before I ever step back in there. 

And I can't believe there is a $3 extra charge for pasta on the side.  You are absolutely right when you say "Can you believe it, an Italian restaurant charging for pasta" on the side.

It saddens me that Mexican and Japanese food loving boors out here have no respect for traditional Southern Italian food, which may be less refined than tacos with goat cheese on them, but is wholesome and multi-faceted and *venerable* nonetheless. 

Allimovers
Allimovers

I cannot believe what they did to Luigis.  I went there last night and walked out after three attempts by the waiter to take my order.  I have been going to Luigis for years and if I wanted to go to some yuppie Italian place, I would drive to LA.  First of all, me and my boyfriend were out on a Friday night, for a relaxing dinner, and were seated next to a screaming child, on some kind of crazy padded seating with pillows, that reminded me of a bed.  That freaked me out alone.  As soon as the child started running around the place and screaming, I asked the waitress to move us, she apologized about her 'granddaughter'.  So we moved to another noisy spot.  I have never been so stressed about dinner.  I tried to order chicken parmigiana three times, and when the waiter kept coming back and telling me the chef (Luigi) cannot make it, I finally left.  Luigi and Frank chased me all the way to the parking lot, because Frank knows me and how long I've been a customer.  Luigi told me he will make anything I want, but at that point it was to late.  There is a reason I get that dish there, if I wanted to go to Olive Garden and get some kind of processed chicken, I will.  We did get our order of fried ravioli, which the waiter looked at me funny, come to realize that it is only on the kids menu now.  It cam within 3 minutes, it was not cooked fresh it couldn't have been.  I have been ordering this for years and know how long it takes.  I do not know if I will go back to Luigis, hopefully they come back to authentic Italian food, not some yuppie crap.   Alli from Buena Park

Pastapal23
Pastapal23

There was a comfy charm to the former Lincoln location before the move to St. College 20 years ago. I was a nice way to meet new folks, sharing a table with folks nestled nearby! It reminded me of some family places I dined at in Southern Italy when I was in the Air Force! Alas, this charm did not get relocated, in part because of a simultaneous drop in food quality that accompanied the move to St. College! That said, I look forward to giving the Ramsay-renovated Luigi's a chance!

Robynbyrd1959
Robynbyrd1959

I just went there for dinner and I was not impressed with the changes. The menu was too limited. My pizza was overwhelmed with grease. Salad is no longer included with the meal, but you can buy one for about $7.00. The atmosphere was not a cozy, Italian atmosphere, it felt more like a steak house. I would have liked to see nice table clothes instead the table tops are clear with, in my opinion, looks like a brown paper bag underneath the glass.  Just so you know, when I went there I was not aware of any changes and anything about the show. I was disappointed in what Chef Ramsey had done. 

After reading the article I found out more about the food changes then when I was there. Noone said anything about making their own sausage...

mike from newark
mike from newark

If they are actually using mascarpone in the cannolis instead of ricotta, then what I hear about Englishmen cooking Italian food is true.

Anapear
Anapear

My family and friends have been going to Luigi's since January, 1982 when Tony was just a kid and Luigi not much older.  Mom made salad and Canole, Dad was the official greeter and sister, Nina, was a waitress. They enlarged once at the Lincoln Ave. location and then moved to State College.  The menu, I think, is still great with daily specials added.  Ciao from the Villa Peruzzi

jennifer
jennifer

Wow!! I went to the new Luigi's last night. It was so much better than it was before.. Before the restaurant was cheesy with really bad, greasy,  bland food. It was a caracature of an Italian restaurant. Last night it was all the food was  freshly made, and you could really tell.. Everything we had was great, service was excellent also. The food was amazing. Having been to Ramsey's restaurant at the London in West Hollywood which has  great flavors, but very small portions,  it was great to experience Michelin-star quality food in moderate portions at bargain prices. We had carpaccio with fresh arugula and cheese as an appetizer and felt we were on the Meditteranean coast, not on State College Blvd. The Luigi Special pizza was great, heaped with the homemade sausage Luigi's is now making -- it was a very good pizza, truly authentic Italian. The pizza serving was generous with pizza still left  after being split for 4 people. For entrees, we had the most tender veal (how do  they get veal to be tender throughout?) It was flavorful and not dry at all-- and certainly not greasy. My 1/2 chicken was sublime. The meat easily came off the bone, and again not dry and not oversauced. Before  Ramsey, the chicken dishes at Luigi's  were covered in sauce and grease and there appeared to be a lot of canned ingredients use Everything was heavily salted. With all of the cheesy decorations and maps of Italy, one could not wait to get out of the place. Luigi should be really proud of his new restaurant.  Back to the food -- short ribs were served as a large portion, very tender with a delicious slightly sweet sauce, and just perfect. the chicken parm was flavorful -- and again, not smothered in sauce and salt as it so often is. The dessserts tasted authentic, clean and fresh. Tiramisu was unique with no discerable layers, but very creamy, just slightly sweet and light.As a life-long hater of cannoli, I can tell you Luigi's were the best. Unlike most cannoli which have a thick, stale crust, the crust tasted fresh. There was lots of cool light cream within the pastry, and it was not sickningly sweet as it so often is (i.e. Villa Nova)It had what  seemed to be freshly made chocolate sprinkles on one end. I felt as if I was back in Rome. Luigis is on its way to being the best Italian Restaurant in the OC.  The only thing they need to do is to add some greenery to the walkway as you enter the restaurant. The entrance is not very attractive and some plants would create a barrier with State College Blvd, add color, and make the place more appealing from the street. The prices are still very moderate, you can come as you are, and wine is only $5.45. What else do you need?

Tene Greene
Tene Greene

I have been going to Luigis for over 10 years now and the food has been pretty good and the menu decent. I probably would not have characterized either as "great". However, now the new post Ramsey menu is less complicated and much better. I've already tried a few of the new dishes(meatballs, salmon, and sausages oh my!) and 2 different salads. There is definitely something great to say about change. It was all incredible, complete with the new foccacia bread! In fact, afterwards I was shocked that I thought for a decade that the food was so good considering how much better it is now. For those of you who keep saying that there was nothing wrong with the restaurant and food before, if that were the case then so many of the restaurant's customers would not have jumped ship for other Italian eateries years before the Chef Ramsey invasion. Luigi's was on it's way into oblivian. Now, however, newer customers are flocking to a more sophisticative, delectable menu and new refurbished authentic Italian Bistro decor. Even adventurous regulars like myself are daring to stray from outdated dishes that they've eaten let's say 10, 20, or 30 times before and discovering the new culinary delights. For the tiny remainder of the dramatically under-impressed and forever unchanging, Luigi's is not losing "you", you're losing Luigi's D'Italia.The restaurant truly is now as long as the staff continues to perservere, on its way to greatness. The lines of people I've seen waiting to get in is certainly a testament to this. 

Kingfisher
Kingfisher

you hit the nail on the head.people need to move into the future and that includes the accepting that the culinary world has exploded due to phenoms like chef ramsay.i could only wish to meet a god of the culinary world.these lucky souls whos restaurants he decides to help out should count there blessings and realize the help theyve been sent.

JB
JB

Spoken beautifully by someone who is obviously affiliated with Luigi's.  

Tene Greene
Tene Greene

I'm just a customer, just an enthusiastic one.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

That's a fascinating assertion with no basis in facts!

Tene Greene
Tene Greene

Mr. Lieberman, I consider myself quite literate. You however should try using a dictionary. Is the word "spack" even a proper word? Try responding next time with a bit of respect no matter how much you may disagree. 

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

JB, it reads more like a breathless Yelp review than any PR spack, no matter how illiterate, I've ever received.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

It's bad writing, but it's not PR hackery. You can't believe ALL your gut feelings, y'know...

JB
JB

You're absolutely right...Commenters express their opinions...the foundation of these opinions are their interpretations of something in the absence of indisputable evidence or 100% verification.  And it's my opinion that this person is obviously affiliated with Luigi's, because I can't believe that if someone was as truly breathlessly enthusiastic as he/she is, they would compose this neat, all-inclusive piece of propaganda, right down to the last line ("The lines of people I've seen waiting to get in is certainly a testament to this.") 

As someone who presumably reads press releases all day, I can't believe it went over your head that this is more press release-y than a spontaneous rave from a random member of the peanut gallery.  

Dizneguy
Dizneguy

We have been visitors for 20+ years from back in the days when they were on Lincoln.  We live out of state an our visits to Anaheim always include a visit to Luigis.  Unfortunately, we stumbled into the restaurant last night to see the great menu gone.  What remains is a menu filled with trendy dishes not the family recipes that they have always served.  Unfortunately, they have lost a customer who loved this place.

MONICA
MONICA

I went to Luigis yesterday, I was not happy with what I saw, WAY CHANGE SOMETHING WHEN IT WAS GOING SO GOOD. JUST TO BE ON T.V. WHAT A JOKE!!!!!!!!!I AND EVERYONE THAT WAS THERE ON THURSDAY,AUGUST 5TH WOULD LOVE IT IF YOU GO BACK TO YOUR OLD MENU AND LEAVE THING THE WAY THERE WERE. WAY CHANGE SOMETHING WHEN IT WAS  GOOD. I THINK THIS DOES NOT HELP IT CAN HURT YOUR BUSINESS. I WANT THINGS BACK ON THE REGULAR MENU AGAIN.I HAVE BEEN YOUR CUSTOMBER FOR OVER 28 YEARS.

Larry
Larry

My family has been going to Luigis since the Lincoln location and the food has always been great. The pizza is the best and most flavorable sauce along with the other menu items. Loved their salad dressing and hope they still have it as we would bring home a continer of it every now and then. Always recommended Luigis to friends and they all loved it. I hope they were not in trouble as many bussinesses are with the recession. Will visit in a couple days to see the new changes, hopefully all for the better. Love chef Ramseys show, it should be interesting to see his changes in a restaurant we visited from the I.E. at least 10 times a year.

Monica
Monica

I THINK YOU WILL DISAPOINTED. CHANGE WAS NOT FOR THE BETTER. THE BOSS SAID HE WILL GO BACK TO THE OLD MENU(GOOD).

Neda
Neda

Apparently Ramsey's been busy ... there are reports that he's also teaching Kanye West how to cook. Haha.

Dan
Dan

The old place on Lincoln was always the place to go after Angels games.  Players, coaches and fans filled up the place.  And the food was very red and basic Italian, the way we used to like it. Never understood why they moved to State College, it was never as good nor as much fun.  We would go Luigi's from our house in Old Towne Orange, and always brought home leftovers for the next day.

Excholo
Excholo

the new location sucked compared to the old place

Excholo
Excholo

Wasnt there a place called Luigi's on Lincoln in a crummy 50"s strip mall that closed down in the 90"s? Now that place was great, you know it was good because Gomba would eat there and speak Italian  with Jersey accents.

Chr1st1na7273
Chr1st1na7273

Yes, it is the same Luigi's. They relocated to State college about 20 years ago.

Excholo
Excholo

bad move that spot had a lot more character

Medusa
Medusa

Missing the lemon rind from your espresso is forgivable.  My wife and I ate at Luigi's on Thurday night and we each ordered a double espresso.  We were served a full coffee cup of instant espresso!!  We knew the terrible taste and were able to force a confession.  The food was worse than I imagined it would be.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

But the reopening was on Friday...

Kingfisher666
Kingfisher666

they need to close the shit hole down.luigis wife was a complete embarrassment.gordon h.ramsay tries to help these disallusioned morons save there livelyhoods .americans make great tv.always good for a laug

Lbuckingham1
Lbuckingham1

Luigi's is a family style Italian restaurant...  Yeah the ambiance was a little ...  ahem...  old school...  Ate there last night...  Loved it...  (I kinda missed the house dressing) but the green salad was great and a nice change and the Penne with Vodka cream sauce was amazing!!!  The pizza's were as good as they always were... greasy and delicious!!!  This will always be a favorite of ours and we plan to support this great little find...  As we have for the past 20 years... It is not a "coffee house"...  But a great little family style italian restaurant...   Love Luigi's then and love it now...  :)  The food for the $$ is a great value!!!  I will also miss the spumoni... no longer on the menu...  I think it was great of them to step outside the box and change a bit...  Change isn't easy...  

Babydoctor
Babydoctor

No other Italian place matters after you discover Barolo Cafe in Tustin. If you haven't been there, please, for the love of God, to make your #1 of this year, try their Farfalle al Pollo e Pesto. Fantastic Northern Italian food. Drool.

Francescaac_chs
Francescaac_chs

This article is about Luigis d italia not Barolo cafe in Tustin. Don't make a comment on someone's article if it has nothing to do with it. Luigi's d' italia has the most authentic Italian food you can get without traveling to Italy. From their calamari to their ca holos everything tastes delicious and I wouldn't go anywhere else.

Babydoctor
Babydoctor

Also, you wouldn't happen to work for Luigis would you? If so, hi! You're a step up from mediocre Italian food! Good job!

Iloveluigis
Iloveluigis

Why thank you. Considering we've been in business for over 30 years and the owners are actually from Italy I think their food is far from mediocre and they might know a little more about Italian food than you. Also, you wouldn't happen to have been to Luigis would you?

Babydoctor
Babydoctor

No, I think its okay if I bring up another restaurant in a food article.

JB
JB

"JB" is actually much more worried about other things than the clientele.  Despite some recent comments, I dined at Luigi's as recently as Feb. 26 and thought it was about as good as it always was.  And what it *was* was a reliable source of southern Italian comfort food.  Crusty, chewy Italian bread...delectably "oily" calamari...pounded but meaty veal cutlets.  None of it with a mass-produced frozen dinner or an Olive Garden-y formulaic taste.   

You have to understand, Grandma didn't make Pan-Seared Quail with Lingonberry Chutney...I like selecting menu items at Onotria, too, but just as Onotria has its place, the (now apparently revamped) Luigi's and its red sauce and oil drenched cuisine had its place, too.  It didn't hurt anybody. 

Grandma's house (and all of the best neighborhood Italian restos back East) also didn't have "playful light fixtures" that "radiate new age" energy.  Aside from Luigi's booth seating desperately needing new cushioning, I had no problem with the alleged "dank"-ness of an interior that was on par with Grandma's dining room, a la with an etching of the Last Supper on the wall and a china cabinet dotted with black and white photographs and ceramic shoes emblazoned with "Cinzano" on them. 

And the reason "people under age 40" don't order veal piccata is because all the Italian restaurants out here fill half their menus with seductive pizzas.  I can tell you that no good neighborhood Italian restaurant in Brooklyn or South Philly has pizza on the menu.  And good God, if I want fish and chips, I'll go to Rock and Sole in Covent Garden.  I don't want British tastes in my Italian restaurants as much as I don't want bangers and linguine. 

As much as you are an exceptionally top-tier food and dining assessor (and individual), Mr. Arellano, I would have recused myself from evaluating the new Luigi's if I (1) admittedly hadn't been there in years and (2) put Tabasco or Tapatio on Italian food.  Fresh pasta and on-site manufactured sausage is all good, but so is oily calamari that doesn't taste like takeout from H.Salt or Arthur Treachers's, and so is a 1970s-era encyclopedic menu of classic options, not Poached Chicken with Herb-Mustard Sauce.  Sometimes, there's a ton of charm and delight in things that are satisfyingly decent, but not "new-age" perfect. 

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

The problem with the southern Italian comfort food is that Italy has moved on, New York has moved on (for the most part) and even those rock-solid checked-tablecloth restaurants in suburban, heavily Italian-American New Jersey have started serving fish and lighter fare and gone back to more Italian roots.

I'm interested to see whether Ramsay tried to get Calabrese food on the menu. The Calabresi are stereotyped as hot-tempered, hot-blooded people and Calabrese food is pretty spicy—arrabbiata sauce is the least of it.

JB, I knew and loved the old Luigi's, but I am telling you, it has gone downhill in the last six months. It certainly wasn't as bad as Mamma Cozza's (seriously, can we please put that place out of its misery?) but it slid. I loved the big floppy pizzas—they were as good when I discovered them as any other New York pie in the county, Slice of New York included—and I liked the red-sauce Italian food, but it slid. The sauce changed and got sweeter and slightly... stickier is really the only way I can describe it. The pasta wasn't always drained well, and forget about having the pasta finished in the sauce (no nonna I ever knew, including my own, EVER served a plate of white pasta with a ladleful of sauce slopped across the top of it).

I'm looking forward to going and seeing if they can keep it up. Anaheim desperately needed a good, more upscale, more traditional Italian restaurant—as Gustavo said, for red-sauce just go to Rufino's, or even Marri's. I'll go in a couple of weeks and report back.

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